Sixteen billion pounds of plastic are dumped into the ocean every year but for many, the amount of trash ending up in the water is not known.
In fact by 2050, it is forecast that there will be more pounds of trash in the ocean than pounds of fish.
As a way to promote clean beaches and waterways, Bette Booth, an environmental communicator who turned trash items found in the ocean into art, is bringing her environmental exhibit called the Splash Trash Tour to Manatee County this month.
“Coming in through the art door, this issue affected me in a different way,” Booth said. “Something about coming in from an art door and touching this plastic changed me fundamentally. I think it resonates with people.”
In two weeks from Feb. 15-25, Robinson Preserve’s Valentine House will transform into an art exhibit as a way to educate the public about the volume and diversity of the trash found in the ocean.
“For one thing, it’s very unique in the sense that it’s a beautiful collaboration between art and nature except that the natural part of it isn’t one of the wonderful aspects of nature,” said Melissa Nell, Manatee County parks and natural resources volunteer and education division manager. “It’s more that it’s one of the unsettling obstacles that we may or may not be aware of.”
Everything featured in the exhibit was at one time trash that had washed up on the beach, Nell said.
“I think it’s important to not only try to reach individuals in a little bit of a different way but to really express the idea that this is an ongoing problem,” she said.
Manatee County will be the third stop on the Splash Trash Tour, which is traveling to six Florida counties in early 2017.
From 4-7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17, there will be a grand opening for the exhibit at the Valentine House.
On both Saturdays that the tour is at Robinson Preserve — Feb. 18 and 25 —there will be guided tours of the exhibit from 9-11 a.m. and 2-4 p.m. While free, registration is required by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 941-748-4501 ext. 6039.
“We were just on board from the beginning,” Nell said of bringing the exhibit to Manatee County. “It was such a perfect fit for the fact that we like to bring in unique, unusual educational opportunities. We are really excited to host it.”
While the exhibit focuses on the beach, trash can end up in any body of water, Nell said.
“You can help make a huge impact every single day,” she said. “All you have to do is pick up one piece of trash every day and one less piece ends up in Manatee River, Tampa Bay, Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean.”
The message of clean beaches and waterways may resonate with a different group of people who normally don’t participate in the trash cleanups or education programs, Nell said.
“I love the exhibit idea because I feel like it will reach a different demographic,” she said. “What I love about an exhibit like this is that it makes that statement for people without having them go to a trash cleanup, without having to go to an educational program.”
Through the Splash Trash Tour, county officials are hoping that people’s behavior will change.
“We absolutely hope there will be some behavior changes coming out of it,” Nell said. “Of all the environmental problems we hear about, this is one of the easiest ones to make a difference.”
In addition to the exhibit and tours at Robinson Preserve’s Valentine House, there will be a series of other programs as part of the Splash Trash Tour including adult programs and kid programs at county libraries. To find a list of the complete schedule, visit mymanatee.org/parks and click on the education tab.
“We encourage folks to come out enjoy the exhibit, learn and maybe take a little bit of that back home with them,” Nell said.
Trash on beaches and in other waterways is an ongoing problem, Nell said.
“I think the exhibit really calls attention to it,” she said. “The diversity of trash that is in there is incredible.”